Ireland: Whiskey on tour

Irish whiskey: why is it spelt with an ‘e’? Is it because most of our whiskey is triple distilled? Or maybe it’s because Irish whiskey is quite simply, extra special.

Barrels at Old Bushmills Distillery
Barrels at Old Bushmills Distillery

Ireland is in the thick of an Irish whiskey renaissance. Super-fashionable and with a great mix of new, artisan and heritage brands, it’s all about whiskey with an extra ‘e’ right now. Distilleries in Ireland are creating some of the world’s finest whiskies, whether blended, single malt or single pot still, and with atmospheric old whiskey bars, intriguing whiskey tours and new brands launching all the time, there’s never been a better time to visit the home of what the Irish call “uisce beatha” – water of life.

All of Ireland’s whiskey distilleries come with their own unique history and tradition. Take a tour and you can uncover the fascinating history behind this ancient craft, as well as discover how each distillery uses distinct ingredients to create their own taste, texture, colour and smell. And from the modest Dingle Whiskey Distillery in County Kerry to the landmark Tullamore Dew Distillery and Visitor Centre, there’s a distillery around almost every corner. 

Of course, to get to the heart of the Irish whiskey tradition, it’s best to start at the beginning with the Old Bushmills in County Antrim, the oldest whiskey distillery on the island of Ireland.

Bushmills Distillery: 5 fast facts

1. County Antrim was granted a license in 1608 by James I, but the people of Antrim were covertly distilling and drinking it as early as 1276.

2. In 1890 the S.S. Bushmills steamship made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America.

3. It is one of the few distilleries in the world to distill, blend, and bottle the whiskey under the same roof.

4. In World War II it halted production and became home to the allied soldiers, who set up camp there.

5. The distillery uses water from nearby Saint Columb’s Rill. The river is said to be blessed by St Columcille, which made the water sweeter and smoother. The proof? It’s in the tasting.

Of course, Bushmills is only the beginning of the Irish whiskey journey. From the oldest to the newest whiskies, Ireland’s distilleries are brimming with tales of the past.

Want to become a whiskey patron, travel a whiskey trail or visit more distilleries?

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The Ireland Whiskey Trail

A must for anyone with an interest in Irish whiskey, every distillery and pub in this free touring guide has been personally researched and selected by Ireland’s best-known independent whiskey expert, Heidi Donelon. You can download the free map or the app in English, French and German.

Whiskey experiences not to be missed...

Jameson Experience Midleton, County Cork

The original distillery that is now the Jameson Experience Midleton, dates back to the 1820s and the beautifully restored machinery will take you through a step-by-step breakdown of the ancient production process. Jameson is produced in the new Midleton Distillery next door (not open for tours), one of the largest, and most modern, distilleries in the world.

Kilbeggan Distillery Experience, Kilbeggan, County Westmeath

This small pot still distillery has a licence dating back to 1757, a copy of which is now proudly on display. It ceased distilling in 1957 but fired up new stills again in 2007. Once you step inside you will see that the distillery has kept its ancient traditions: the creaking timber water wheel and giant steam engine are blasts from the 19th century.

Tullamore Dew Visitor Centre, County Offaly

Built to meet a massive increase in global demand, the €35million Tullamore Dew Distillery is a state-of-the-art distillery. The excellent visitor centre here stands within a bonded 19th century warehouse, and brings you through the entire process from the birth of the brand, to the final tasting.   

And that’s just for starters, you can continue your journey at the Old Jameson Distillery, Dublin (closed for refurbishment until March 2017); the Dingle Distillery, Dingle, County Kerry; and the new Irish Whiskey Museum, in the heart of Dublin city. 

The taste test

So, you’ve discovered all about Irish whiskey, now it’s time to try it. There are great little whiskey pubs all over Ireland, while whiskey drinking has gone upscale at places such as 37 Dawson Street and the Dingle Whiskey Bar in Dublin, and the Hudson Whiskey Bar in Belfast. Or why not try these excellent traditional pubs, winners of the Irish Whiskey Awards.

1. Palace Bar, Fleet Street, Dublin: Established in 1823, the Palace is one of Dublin’s great literary pubs with a Victorian interior and whiskeys such as Tyrconnell 18-year-old single malt.  

2. Garavans, Galway city: A proper “local” pub, this beautiful old pub with its oak-panelled interior is a Galway gem, with over 125 whiskeys available.

3. Dick Mack’s, Dingle: Nothing beats Dick Mack’s on a quiet afternoon. It’s something really special. Take a seat and enjoy the unique surroundings, and a delightful whiskey.  

4. Duke of York, Belfast: Snuggled down a cobbled alleyway, this historic pub is simply gorgeous, with an esteemed selection of whiskeys to choose from.  

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